KINGMAN – Even after the Hoover Dam bypass opens in 2008, motorists can expect delays for at least another year.
Arizona Department of Transportation and Mohave County planners predict that traffic congestion will increase significantly partly caused by U.S. Highway 93 narrowing from four lanes to two 15 miles south of the new bridge.
Most of the new traffic will be commercial haulers. Semi-trucks have been banned from crossing the dam following Sept. 11, 2001. The bridge eliminates the need for the ban.
ADOT has budgeted $80 million during 2008-09 to widen U.S. Highway 93 between mileposts 2 through 17 to four lanes.
“And with the growth we’re expecting up in that White Hills-Dolan Springs area it’s going to be a significant increase in the traffic up there,” said Mike Kondelis, ADOT Kingman District Engineer.
More traffic leads to the possibility of more accidents also. Kondelis said that before the semi-truck ban, collisions were a problem as cars tried to pass the slower trucks on the two-lane stretch. “When we did have the trucks on the road, we had a very high accident rate and a number of fatalities there,” he said.
There are already more than 10,000 vehicles traveling U.S. Highway 93 daily, 25 percent of which is commercial truck traffic, according to Kondelis.
Traffic will increase during the next 10-20 years because the highway is part of the CANAMEX Corridor for North American Free Trade.
During those two years that U.S. Highway 93 north is under construction, projects on the southern stretch will be on hold. Kondelis said widening the highway to four lanes from I-40 to Wickenburg is still in the agency’s long-term goals.
Widening projects on two sections of the highway are scheduled for completion by the end of 2007, Kondelis said. Those sections include approximately seven miles south of I-40 and about 30 miles between Wikieup and the Santa Maria River. ADOT dedicated a new bridge over Burro Creek last month. Kondelis said it would be open for traffic by Memorial Day.
The break in construction gives ADOT time to create an access management plan for the highway. The agency wants to create a statewide plan to unify access to state highways to avoid the problems of traffic congestion that occurred on State Route 95.
“Ultimately when there’s enough traffic volume and enough accesses needed, our goal is to take both of those highways (U.S. Highway 93 and State Route 95) to full access control, which is basically like the interstate highway where you have traffic interchanges,” he said.
The population boom over the past 10 years has helped Mohave County secure funding for these projects, Deputy Director of Western Arizona Council of Governments Dave Barber said. The demand for improved roadways will increase as the county continues to grow.
“Mohave County over the last eight or 10 years has fared second only to Maricopa County in the allocation of state dollars to highway projects,” he said. “This year, I think we’re fourth but the majority of the years we were right behind Maricopa County or third behind Maricopa and Pima.”
The Arizona 18-cent gas tax contributes to highway construction. Counties have the ability to levy an additional half-cent sales tax on gasoline to fund improvements. Mohave County has never proposed adding another tax.
“It’s a four-lettered word to every elected official,” Barber said. “The counties that have, such as Maricopa, they have millions and millions of dollars available to them for highway construction.”
Money raised from the county tax can help grease the wheels on where ADOT allocates its projects. Counties that are willing to pay their share toward improving local roads that are part of the federal system often receive priority, Barber said.
“A million, two million, three million dollar construction cost per mile is very common anymore in roadway construction,” he said. “It’s very expensive.”